I’m getting quite good at being an expat. After all, I’ve been one for 20 years now, and in two different countries. I never expected to be. I thought England was my home and that I’d always be there. But things change.

We moved to Ireland in 1992 with a very small baby (Benjamin), two dogs and a lot of clutter. But that was OK, since Chris’s company was paying for the move so we brought all of it along for sorting out later. Except, of course, we didn’t! It wasn’t only my first shot at living abroad, it was also my first go at being rural. I’m a townie by birth, and had spent my first thirty years in urban indulgence, within easy walking or cycling distance of things like shops, swimming pools, parks and more shops. Now suddenly I was in the middle of nowhere and without a car. Surprisingly, I coped. I’ve always loved walking so I went for endless tramps along quiet lanes, firstly with Benj in a sling, then in a backpack (special baby one, don’t worry!) and then in his three-wheeled buggy. We covered miles every day. I got the car on Tuesdays, and spent most of that out and about – shopping, swimming, going to the park, and more shopping. Our other big outing was to toddler group on Fridays. That was a 15 mile round trip on my bike with an ever-heavier infant on the back! Caiti’s arrival didn’t disrupt the routine too much, except now I had her in a sling as I pushed Benj around. I managed her in the backpack while still pushing the buggy for a while, but it was tough going, so at the earliest opportunity Benj was evicted from the buggy and had to start walking! He was a real trooper and was possibly the fittest toddler in Ireland.

Chris nobly took to a motorbike for commuting to work for a while so that I could have wheels more often. I couldn’t fit two kids on a bike, no matter how hard I tried. And it was noble of Chris, because remember, we were in Ireland where it takes rain seriously. Eskimo tribes have thirty words for snow I believe. I’m sure there must be about fifty for rain in Irish – sideways rain, slanting rain, heavy rain, even heavier rain, colossally heavy rain and so on! Chris must have got soaked four days out of five. It took a painful meeting with a tractor on the wrong side of the road to persuade us that the time had come to invest in a second car.

We moved four times in Ireland – from Harry’s house (rented) to Binn An Tí (bought) to Shanvally (rented) and finally to Sríhain an Sionnach (bought, and the most beautiful house in the world!). Little by little we decluttered, so by the time we deserted the Emerald Isle for much sunnier France, we had a manageable amount of stuff (despite having a third child) that looked lost, all huddled up in the far end of the container truck. In fact, five and a half years later, some of it still hasn’t been unpacked!

Expatdom is now a way of life. For twenty years I’ve been an outsider. Because you never fully fit in as an expat. No matter how well you integrate, and how many native friends you make, or how many clubs and committees you join – you somehow remain on the edge of things. We spent fifteen years in Ireland and we were still the ‘blow-ins’ at the end of that time. Here, too, we’re nouveaux arrivants. We’re les irlandais (the Irish family) which is 40% true. The kids are now as French as they can be. They sound French, they think in French, they have a new country. But I think for Chris and I, France is simply somewhere that we live. Les Fragnes is home, where our family is and where we are stubbornly English. But out of its confines, despite being familiar and beloved, we’re in a foreign country. On a day like yesterday when the presidential elections were taking place, we felt extremely foreign since we’re not allowed to vote, despite paying taxes here. And we’re always going to sound foreign, although our French is ever improving. And look foreign. We’re never going to quite lose that slightly bewildered look you have when you’re not entirely 100% sure what the heck is going on around you!

But today is a day for celebrating expatness, hence this blog hop. Do please hop off to visit the other expat bloggers who are taking part. They’re all fascinating people who have taken the plunge to voluntarily complicate things and stress themselves silly by moving to another country for whatever reason.

Before you go, please leave your name in a comment. I’ll pick a winner at random and the prize will be a Kindle version of my about-to-be-launched travel memoir about our first couple of years living here in France – Heads Above Water.


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